"Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one." - Charles Mackay
Tuesday, August 09, 2005
School of the Americas
What is the SOA?

The School of the Americas (SOA), in 2001 renamed the “Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation,” is a combat training school for Latin American soldiers, located at Fort Benning, Georgia.

Initially established in Panama in 1946, it was kicked out of that country in 1984 under the terms of the Panama Canal Treaty. Former Panamanian President, Jorge Illueca, stated that the School of the Americas was the “biggest base for destabilization in Latin America.” The SOA, frequently dubbed the “School of Assassins,” has left a trail of blood and suffering in every country where its graduates have returned.

Over its 59 years, the SOA has trained over 60,000 Latin American soldiers in counterinsurgency techniques, sniper training, commando and psychological warfare, military intelligence and interrogation tactics. These graduates have consistently used their skills to wage a war against their own people. Among those targeted by SOA graduates are educators, union organizers, religious workers, student leaders, and others who work for the rights of the poor. Hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans have been tortured, raped, assassinated, “disappeared,” massacred, and forced into refugee by those trained at the School of Assassins.

[from the July 11, 2005 issue of The Nation]

Don't expect this to make easy sense. El Salvador is a series of issues as much as it is a country, and to the degree it is a country it is one where contradictions and extremes rule. As well as paradox. Take, for example, gangs. The notorious Mara Salvatrucha gang roams the streets of the capital, San Salvador, as well as other cities, fighting for money, territory and control of the drug trade. But this gang is not from El Salvador at all. Mara Salvatrucha began in Los Angeles.

Given the uncertainties, let's start with El Salvador's facts:

Population: 6.7 million, a little larger than Massachusetts.

Area: a little smaller than Massachusetts.

Currency: US dollar, no local currency minted.

Taxation: no property tax, 13 percent sales tax.

Principal export: people; after that, coffee, sugar, rice.

Principal destination of exports, both legal and illegal: United States.

Principal import: remittances from Salvadorans in the United States, known as remesas and estimated at $2.5 billion annually, 17.1 percent of gross domestic product.

Ethnic groups: mestizo 90 percent, white 9 percent, Amerindian 1 percent or less, having been largely exterminated in a massacre decreed by the government in 1932.

Foreign businesses visible immediately on the streets of the capital: Wendy's (for hamburguesas), KFC (pollo), Pizza Hut, McDonald's, Burger King, Hyundai, Isuzu, Holiday Inn, Nine West, Tony Roma's, John Deere, Toyota, Blockbuster, Armani, Subway, Domino's Pizza, Payless ShoeSource, DuPont, Budget Rent A Car, not to mention Texaco and Shell stations. Emblems of a consumer nation, or are we talking corporate colonization here? Sorry, that's opinion, especially the left-loaded word "colonization." Stick to facts in this section.

Emigrant population: 2.5 million, legal and illegal, in the United States, more than one-third the total in El Salvador itself.

Most recent war: Currently the country is at war in Iraq, having sent 380 troops, six of whom were awarded the Bronze Star by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on a visit to El Salvador.

Most devastating war: The civil war lasted twelve years, from 1980 to 1992, costing El Salvador 75,000 lives and the United States between $4 billion and $6 billion as it supported the rightist government against leftist rebels. The peace accords of 1992 gave a place in the nation's politics both to the conservative ARENA party and the FMLN rebels.

Most recent election and candidates: In 2004 Tony Saca of the ARENA party defeated Schafik Handal of the FMLN party, though in 2003 the FMLN won more seats in the National Assembly. Saca and Handal are distant cousins from Palestinian families. Don't draw any conclusions; presumably they are just a couple of outsourced Palestinians looking for work.

Climate: tropical.

Enough facts. Now for opinion. El Salvador today is an Exhibit A casualty of the American imperium. The country is like a friend very slowly recovering from a grave illness--a stroke, perhaps, that paralyzed part of the body--and still re-learning the use of limbs and powers of reasoning, occasionally suffering frustrating setbacks. The illness was not only the civil war but the way of the war--death squads, dictatorial regimes, massacres of entire villages, widespread torture, the assassination of the revered Archbishop Oscar Romero, the murder of American nuns, a sinister aura throughout the small country. Virtually every family has its horror story of brutality--abduction, rape, murder. Even unprosecuted perpetrators are not necessarily free from the emotional harvest of their acts. The cousin of a National Guard officer who was present at the infamous massacre in El Mozote told me his cousin is still "visited by fright and guilt." I asked whether this officer had committed murders himself. "If he was ordered he followed orders," the man said. "His nightmares are uncontrollable even with drugs, and he has been in and out of mental hospitals ever since."

The grave illness of El Salvador, this national stroke, was also finely calibrated and to a major degree funded, if not caused, by the United States. Our troops schooled the Salvadoran Army and its affiliated death squads, the Reagan Administration supported the hysterical fascism of the dictators, and our Special Forces and CIA taught the torturers their techniques. This was, in retrospect, spring training for Iraq.*

Like Iraq, with its own badly misunderstood history, El Salvador has problems that preceded US policy in the area. Beginning in the sixteenth century, the Spanish did an efficient job of creating an unholy trinity to preside over the poor in countries they colonized: army, church and oligarchy. El Salvador's oligarchy consisted primarily of fourteen families who controlled the economy and the rigid social ladder. The feudal system imposed by the Spanish persisted until the civil war brought about (some) land reform and (some) social mobility. The apparatus of class is exemplified today in fashionable neighborhoods by high walls topped with razor wire that protect the rich from the poor. Socioeconomic poles are so far apart, El Salvador could be a laboratory for the study of unfairness.

There is always the danger that a recovering patient can suffer a relapse, another stroke. Professor Benjamin Cuellar, director of the Institute for Human Rights at the University of Central America in San Salvador, sees a slightly modernized trinity blocking egalitarian progress the way the old Spanish one did. "We have the divine right of wealth here," he told me. "God the Father is the economic power of the rich families, the corporations and US interests. The Son is ARENA itself, which serves the rich, and the Holy Ghost is the media which support the rich and ARENA, who basically own them. No wonder human rights are threatened, not only by gangs but in the home."

On the question of the Central American Free Trade Agreement, currently before the US Congress, Cuellar is critical but fatalistic. "CAFTA is coming and it has provisions to expand the economy, but it will help only the rich," he said. "The government tells lies about how we will invade the United States with tamales and tortillas to drive out hamburgers. Our little industries can't really compete and will be flooded by American and Chinese products. The Salvadoran winners will be the bankers, the big landowners who build malls and own hotels, the Mercedes dealers. The poor will be the losers, as usual." CAFTA advocates say it will diversify the economy, bring jobs to El Salvador and industrialize the workforce. Crucial objections to CAFTA are that it provides no support for labor unions, does not guarantee even minimal working conditions, contains no protections for the environment and will put El Salvador's small farmers out of business by allowing cheaper corn and beans to come in from the north.

Like other Salvadorans of all classes, Cuellar sees the flow of immigrants to the United States as both a social escape valve and an indispensable part of the economy. "What would we do without 2.5 million Salvadorans in the United States? Simple: We'd collapse. Your government looks the other way on illegal immigrants, our government sends troops to Iraq, a total surrender to George Bush."

Illegal immigration led to the creation of Mara Salvatrucha, the gang that terrorizes urban El Salvador. It originated as a defense against Mexican gangs preying on Salvadoran immigrants in Los Angeles. When Mara Salvatrucha leaders were arrested and deported to El Salvador, they recruited new members, who headed north to the United States themselves, reinforcing what has become a 100,000-member international gang. The Department of Homeland Security catches those it can, sends them home and the recruiting cycle begins again among the dispossessed youth of El Salvador's poorest barrios.

* A recent New York Times Magazine report identifies several Americans who worked with Special Forces in El Salvador and elsewhere in Latin America to promote US interests. Two of them are James Steele and Steve Casteel (such names, such Bunyanesque allegory, could be improved upon only by making the second one Castiron), who cut their teeth--and no doubt a lot of other people's--in El Salvador (Steele) and the drug wars of the Americas (Casteel). Now they help bring Iraq's new army up to speed on the counterinsurgency tactics they first practiced in Latin America.

At the other end of the spectrum, the US Embassy in San Salvador is a fine and private place, a moated compound against the country to which it is delegated, as meticulously landscaped, tennis-courted and pooled as a Connecticut country club. Diplomats there are more welcoming than at any embassy I have visited and refreshingly candid. The feeling among those I spoke with was that the FMLN would have won the last election if its candidate, Schafik Handal, hadn't been so bombastic and hot-tempered. They fear that ARENA President Saca's current outreach to the poor and proposed tax reforms will be scuttled by his own wealthy supporters. These opinions were echoed by Americans both inside and outside the embassy.

An American with considerable experience in El Salvador rues the tax system, or lack of one, connecting it to the monthly remittances from the United States, out of which the Salvadoran banks take a cut. In a lengthy conversation, the only time I saw him agitated was when he talked about wealthy Salvadorans. "Remittances," he said, "amount to the poorest people in the country subsidizing the richest, the ones with three BMWs in their garages. The 13 percent sales tax hits the poor the hardest, and the rich pay no property tax. You can't run a country on a sales tax. The national sport here isn't soccer, it's tax evasion." This American, with contacts among the Salvadoran elite, did not want to be identified; he added that he levels these charges against the rich not as a socialist but as a conservative Republican.

The irony of the remittances is that they are sent by Salvadorans who are themselves near the bottom of the US labor pool--maids, busboys, messengers, janitors. Two hardworking mothers in San Salvador who do not receive remittances themselves told me the payments are necessary but demoralizing. "My cousins are in a small village on the coast and have made their living as fishermen for generations," one said, "but the waters are becoming fished out. So they sit around waiting all month for their remesas to arrive from Houston and northern Virginia. I also have farming cousins in the mountains. When coffee prices went down they stopped planting, and now they just wait for the monthly payments. Their cousins in America clean houses and mow lawns. A couple of the guys found work in construction."

The other woman, who once studied medicine but now works as a driver and tour guide, was even bleaker. "The United States has El Salvador in the palm of its hand," she said. "If your government suddenly decided, for whatever reason, to deport a mere fraction of the illegal Salvadorans, say 100,000, our lifeline vanishes and the war would start again." Both women used exactly the same four words to describe the illegal immigration to the north: "This will never end."

"I completely disagree that remesas make bums of us," a villager far from the capital told me. Maria Celina Orellana is a 51-year-old mother of ten who, remarkably, looks a decade younger. She has struggled all her life for her family and her mountain village, Carasque, which has usually meant struggling against her government and its US sponsors. Orellana's allies--and Carasque's--are American NGOs in the country, working openly against Administration policy and continuing to try, if possible, to help Salvadorans resist the malignant effects of globalization without representation. Jesse Kates-Chinoy, a young American from Bangor, Maine, who works for the Sister Cities Program in El Salvador, took my wife and me three bumpy hours in a pickup--and developmentally, a light-year--from San Salvador to Carasque in the department of Chalatenango. El Salvador's pre-industrial past materialized as the noisy, dusty capital gave way to farmland, lush foliage, sparkling streams and hilly villages where people were traveling on foot or by donkey.

Carasque is near the Honduran border and has a population of about 400, making sister "city" an ambitious designation, but Peace through Interamerican Community Action (PICA) in Bangor has furnished, among other things, medicines, school supplies and money for a new soccer field in Carasque. Maria Celina Orellana, who is on the town council and twice the age of the other members, recalls the war in Carasque as freshly as if it had ended last month instead of thirteen years ago. Like many villages in Chalatenango, Carasque favored the FMLN rebels over the central government. "We hated the army," Orellana said. "When the army came to occupy us, the men of Carasque hid farther up in the mountains so they wouldn't be drafted against their will. The Guardia took our pigs and chickens and never paid us. If they asked for your ID and you didn't have it, they beat you. When the Guardia saw a woman walking alone, they would take her up the hill above here and rape her in a group. They would tell her if she talked they'd rip out her tongue." Two of Orellana's sons joined the rebels and were killed.

I asked Orellana if she herself was mistreated. As she answered she looked away, out the window of the enlarged tin-roof hut where the town council meets, and focused on a loofa tree. "We suffered because we had to protect our village." Still avoiding my eyes and continuing to use the first person plural, she said, "We were never safe when the Guardia was around. They were the most cruel. They took our houses, made us sleep outside, stole anything they wanted, made us do whatever they wanted us to do. Always when they were around we felt death in the air."

Orellana and others said there were no paid jobs in Carasque except for schoolteachers. Some of the villagers belong to a sewing cooperative, and they sell tapestries to people in Bangor and elsewhere. The men are almost all farmers, dreading the advent of CAFTA, which they are sure will drive them off the land. "We raise sugar and chickens," Orellana said, "and, yes, my son in Washington, DC, sends money home from his pay as a house painter. But no one sits back and waits here. We have no bums in Carasque." Outside, punctuating what Orellana had just said, three men passed carrying rakes while two women climbed the hill from a stream with green baskets on their heads full of laundry they had just washed. Neither used her hands to steady the baskets, one swinging her arms and the other holding a baby.

In Carasque's only shop, a combination general store and cafe, we ate a friendly fly-buzzed lunch while Kates-Chinoy described his work in Carasque and other villages as "essentially education and political advocacy." His parents spent several years in El Salvador, and his father, Dennis Chinoy, recently published an op-ed in which he argued that under CAFTA public education, fire departments, libraries and even water supplies are all "fair game for privatization." In a worst-case nightmare, remittances to El Salvador could become the intravenous feeding tube keeping a comatose country alive. Even in Carasque, cognitive dissonance lives: As we ate, the shop's television was tuned to a rerun of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in Madison Square Garden with its display of champion borzois, Shih Tzus, corgis and bichons frisés, whose collective grooming costs more than Carasque's citizens see in a year, remittances included. If anyone was offended, there was no sign. As in villages throughout the Third World, Carasque's television seemed to be utilized less for its dramatic or informational possibilities than for its anesthetic properties.

When I returned to San Salvador for an appointment with the former medical student now working as a tour guide, she told me that, at 35, she was already too old to be hired by one of the corporations now dotting the city. As a working mother supporting her son without remittances, she would like at least to be eligible for an office job. "Nothing doing," she said. "These men, they want only young women to look at and to serve them." We were joined by her parents, who had lived for a dozen years in San Francisco. "Machismo is our enemy here," her stately mother said. "It keeps everyone down, the men stupid and the women ignorant. Educate the women and you educate the country."

Meanwhile, security was being beefed up all over the city because the day after I was to leave El Salvador, Condoleezza Rice was coming through on a politicothankyoudiplophoto-op to tell the only Central American country still maintaining troops in Iraq how much its patron appreciated the gesture.

On my last afternoon in the country I went to see Maria Julia Hernandez, for several decades El Salvador's guardian of human rights. She works in an office so spare the only ornamentation is a large cross flanked by a pair of photographs of the assassinated Archbishop Romero, with whom she worked a generation ago. Even when she is most critical of American policy or of cruelties in El Salvador, Hernandez smiles indulgently. She has the beatific visage of a Buddha or--on her own religious compass--of a slowly aging Latina angel. "Human rights today is a very delicate subject here," she said. "In a structural way the majority of people are threatened every day--by the gangs, of course, but also by bandits and even the national police, who are very corrupt and take bribes. They also still use torture. The problem with youth gangs is real, but the police don't try to solve it except by force. This is no good--we have to include young people in choosing their futures, not simply suppress them."

Hernandez pointed to a kind of violence worse than that caused by gangs or police, which Professor Cuellar had alluded to when he mentioned human rights in the home. "Family crimes against women and children," she said, "this is more serious than the gangs. Men with no jobs turn to domestic violence. Women are killed in horrible ways. As El Salvador's debts go up, social conditions go down. The same causes exist that were here before the civil war--social and economic inequality, the threat and reality of violence. The politicians are shouting now instead of shooting, but the conditions are the same as before. Men have so few jobs, the factories that exist exploit women terribly and the remesas are not healthy for an economy or a people."

I asked if she had any hope.

"Solidarity," Maria Julia Hernandez said, smiling more broadly even as she described a country on life support. "I always have hope that enough people will come together to work for a just society. The United States could help by understanding that other people, not only Americans, are human beings too, and by paying attention to international agreements on the environment, global warming and human rights. I admire so much in the United States--the goodness and generosity of the people, and the values and rights you believe in--but your foreign policy is terrible. We should bring our soldiers home from Iraq, and so should you. Why do you have such a terrible foreign policy?"

"Why?" I said.

"You tell me," she said, still smiling.
posted by R J Noriega at 4:33 PM | Permalink | 1 comments
Monday, August 08, 2005
Hip hop Islam story via planet grenada
Hesham Samy Abdel-Alim follows the rise of hip hop as a global phenomenon, paying particular attention to its connection with the concurrent rise of Islam

Let's take a ride through the streets of San Francisco, California where we're talking to one of the world's most critically-acclaimed hip hop artists, rapper Mos Def. While it may come as a surprise to many, Mos Def is not only a hip hop artist, but he is also a devout Muslim. "When did you come into your Islamic knowledge? I noticed in, 'Fear Not of Man,' you opened up with, ' Bismillah Al-Rahman Al-Rahim.' Was that important for the album?" Looking at me directly he says, "I took my shahada four years ago... I had been advised that when you do works that go out to the public -- written works or spoken works -- that you should bless them like that, you know. It makes sense to me. The spiritual level just puts the seal on it. Like I'm making an effort to reach Allah with this. And, Insha' Allah, my efforts will be accepted."

In the early 1970s, long before White American rapper Eminem and Egyptian rap group MTM picked up the mic, hip hop culture began in the streets of Black America in poor, urban neighbourhoods. Hip hop culture -- what was once termed "Black Noise" by scholar Tricia Rose -- has been termed "Global Noise" one decade later by scholar Tony Mitchell. Hip hop culture's presence in countries as diverse as Egypt, Brazil, Japan, Australia, South Africa, Germany, Senegal, Algeria, Mexico, Palestine, France, China, Cuba, Colombia, Lebanon and Norway, for example, demonstrates its rise as a dominant force in global youth culture today.

In a post-9/11 world, what we are witnessing is a massive movement of Muslim artists who are networked around the world through the power of hip hop culture, constructing the notion of a hip hop nation through nation- building practices and ideologies. It is not only Mos Def, but it is also rappers like Beanie Sigel, Freeway, Common, Chuck D, Napoleon of the Outlawz, the Rza, members of The Roots, and many others around the world, who have accepted the Islamic faith. Implicit in the shahada is a commitment to a way of life that is governed, regulated, and mediated by the precepts of Islam, where Muslims are taught to "fear not of man", but to fear Allah alone (as Brooklyn rapper Mos Def makes clear above). Despite the fact that Islam has been a normative practice in African American society for centuries since slavery, the full story of African American Muslim Movements remains untold. In particular, despite journalist Harry Allen's description of Islam as hip hop's "official religion", Islam's dynamic presence and central role in the hip hop nation have been largely unexplored. In this exploratory article, I will be raising a number of issues and questions for further exploration in our on-going attempt to gain an understanding of what I call the "Transglobal hip hop umma " within a borderless Islamic nation. That is, Prophet Mohamed of Arabia did not speak of an "Islamic Iraq" or of a "Muslim Senegal"; he imagined a transglobal Muslim community, an umma where citizenship was based on faith rather than on contemporary nation-state distinctions, or rather, on how colonising cartographers cut up the global landscape.

We can begin with general questions like: How much do we know about the relationship between "hip hop" and "Islam"? Do we even see these two communities as compatible? We can further problematise the notion of "Islamic hip hop" by reconsidering what it means to be an "Islamic artist" more generally. And we can delve deeper into the history of the hip hop cultural movement and ask questions like: Given the fact that Islamic civilisation has been at once transnational and connective, how has this transnational connectivity been manifested within the hip hop cultural movement? Further, given the transglobal nature of the hip hop cultural movement, how has this cultural nation without traditional borders served the purposes of spreading Islamic knowledge, values, teachings, ideas and ideals?

Finally we can ask two related questions, as we did at the "American Popular Culture" conference at the American University in Cairo's American Studies Centre (22-23 May). What do scholars of popular culture and international relations make of the role of Islam and hip hop culture in spreading ideas and ideologies that are critical of US government domestic and foreign policy (see the December issue of Mazikka and other issues for discussions about hip hop's anti-Bush, anti-war commentary)? And what does the US government make of this? One scholar, John Baugh of Stanford University and Washington University, once noted that hip hop music may be America's number one cultural export, making it vulnerable to attack and censorship by government forces, or worse, making it vulnerable to co-optation and manipulation by those same forces. Baugh's suggestion underscores the global power of hip hop culture as a mass-based, mass-produced, and mass-mediated counterhegemonic discourse.

Before we can consider the transglobal hip hop ummah, we need to explore the hidden histories of African American Muslim movements in the hip hop nation. My use of "Islam" in this chapter is broadly conceived, encompassing a spectrum of ideologies and schools of thought. I will focus on the three most dominant forms of Islam in the hip hop nation in the US -- the nation of Islam, the nation of gods and earths (or the five per cent nation of Islam), and the Sunni Muslim community. While there are theological and terminological differences between these communities, all view Islam as a transformative force in the lives of its practitioners, and the data reveal similarities among the views of their adherents. For example, a belief in Allah and the revelation of the Qur'an through Prophet Mohamed of Arabia, is a tenet of all Muslim communities. These similarities are revealed through discussions with hip hop artists about the various creative processes involved in their craft.


As Mecca remains the metaphoric centre of the global Muslim network, the concepts of the Qur'an and its revelation to Prophet Mohamed remain at the core of Muslim beliefs. Members of the hip hop nation who represent these three African American Muslim movements have independently observed that the very means by which the Qur'an was revealed to the Prophet -- that is, orally and, in large part, through rhymed prose -- exhibits parallels to the linguistic and literary mode of delivery found in hip hop lyrical production. The African American oral tradition has rarely been interpreted in this way, yet Muslim artists have creatively conceptualised links between their mode of production and their Islamic faith. Through dozens of ethnographic interviews with hip hop artists in the US, it became clear to me that Muslim hip hop artists were making new connections between hip hop lyrical production and the method and means by which Allah revealed the Qur'an to the Prophet.

In a conversation with rapper Mos Def, who represents the Sunni Muslim community, he discusses the reasons why he believes hip hop lyrics can be an effective medium in educational practice. In the midst of his animated description, he draws the bridge between hip hop poetics and the Qur'anic text as forms of poetry, each possessing a rhyme scheme and an ability to transmit "vital information" in a relatively short amount of time. His knowledge of the Qur'an and the Arabic language through which it was revealed are evident.

"I mean, do you know how much information -- vital information -- you could get across in three minutes?! You know, and make it so that... I mean, the Qur'an is like that. The reason that people are able to be hafiz [one who memorises the entire Qur'an through constant repetition and study] is because the entire Qur'an rhymes. [Mos Def begins reciting Islamic verses from the Qur'an] ' Bismillah Al-Rahman Al-Rahim. Al-hamdulillahi Rub Al-Alameen.' Like everything... Like, you see what I'm saying? I mean, it's any sura that I could name. ' Qul huwa Allahu Ahad, Allahu As-Samad. Lam yalid wa lam yulad wa lam yakun lahu qufwan ahad.' It's all like that. Like, you don't even notice it. ' Idha jaa nasru Allahi wal fatah. Wa r'ayta an-nas yadkhuluna fi dini Allahi afwaja. Fa sabih bi hamdi rabika wa istaghfirh inahu kana tawaba.' Like, there's a rhyme scheme in all of it. You see what I'm saying? And it holds fast to your memory. And then you start to have a deeper relationship with it on recitation. Like, you know, you learn Surat Al-Ikhlas, right. You learn Al-Fatiha. And you learn it and you recite it. And you learn it and you recite it. Then one day you're reciting it, and you start to understand! You really have a deeper relationship with what you're reciting. ' A'udhu billahi min ash-shaitan al-rajim...' You be like, 'Wow!' You understand what I'm saying? hip hop has the ability to do that -- on a poetic level."

Bay Area rapper JT the Bigga Figga, a registered member of the nation of Islam, also refers to the literary similarities between what young African Americans are doing with language (what I've referred to in my research as hip hop nation language) and the purposeful use of creative language by Allah as a pedagogical tool to reach the hearts and minds of mankind. In a discussion of the relationship between the "language of the streets", and the "language of hip hop", JT draws on his knowledge of the Qur'an and links it to his Bay Area comrade rapper E-40's inventive and metaphorical use of language:

"Like, it's almost like with Allah how he'll describe his prophets as moonlight. He'll describe his word that he speaks in a metaphoric phrasing. Where he'll say the clouds and when they swell up heavy and the water goes back to the earth, distilling back to the earth. The water's heavier than gravity so it distills back to the earth on dry land, producing vegetation and herbs comin up out the ground, you feel me? And results are happening, you feel me? And the disbelievers, how they dry land and the sun's scorching it. He describes the different conditions, you know what I'm saying? And it can be related to nature, you feel me? Nature. And what we see, how we conduct ourselves, can be related to some aspect of nature. And that's kinda like what E-40 does when he takes something and takes a word and apply it, you feel me?"

Whether engaged in conversations about the pedagogical potential of hip hop music, or the inventive and innovative use of language by specific artists within the hip hop nation, these hip hop artists invoke Islamic knowledge to accomplish diverse tasks. In many of my interviews, I heard Islamic knowledge being invoked spontaneously in the flow of conversation (as often occurs in Muslim-Muslim conversations), pointing to the fact that members of the hip hop nation are studying and applying Islam in their everyday lives.


Hip hop music has been an active vehicle for social protest in the US. Its targets have been racism, discrimination, police brutality, miseducation and other social ills. Many of the artists involved in the global manifestations of the hip hop cultural movement resist the multifarious forms of oppression in global societies. When hip hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa launched the Muslim- influenced Zulu Nation in the US in the 1970s, and expanded the movement globally in places like France in the early 1980s, he was networking to help spread socially and politically conscious ideas and ideals, to build a community of people who would actively resist social, political and economic subordination. Exploring what he refers to as the "transglobal Islamic underground", and writing in particular about England's Fun-Da- Mental and France's IAM, Ted Swedenburg writes: "In both countries Muslims are attempting to construct cultural, social and political spaces for themselves as ethnic groups (of sorts), and are massively involved in anti-racist mobilisations against white supremacy. Hip-hop activism has been an important arena for anti- Islamophobic mobilisation for both French and British Muslims."

My research reveals that not only are these artists studying Islam (as demonstrated by their ability to quote and vividly describe Qur'anic passages) and applying it to their everyday lives, but they are also operationalising Islam, that is, acting upon what they have learned in order to help build a nation. Mos Def does not only rap about issues like consciousness and justice, he lives them. His Islamic consciousness moves him and partner Talib Kweli to rescue Nkiru Bookstore, a Black-owned bookstore in his home community of Brooklyn, from shutting down. It guides him to actively participate in the creation of a hip hop album ( Hip Hop for Respect ) dedicated to obtaining justice for police brutality victims and the immoral murder of Amadou Diallo, a Muslim immigrant from Guinea who was murdered by the NYPD in 1999. Mos paraphrases the Qur'an and expresses his faith in Allah at a public rally against the acquittal of the officers who fired 41 shots at the brother: "To people who seek justice, to the Amadou Diallo family, and to everyone who speaks against oppression, I say, FEAR NOT, Allah is the best of judges."

Similarly, Public Enemy front man, Chuck D's Islamic consciousness moved him from giving live performances in concert halls to giving talks about nation- building in the streets, prisons, and schools of Black communities. It is what moved him to become perhaps the most well-known advocate for "cutting out the middle man" in the hip hop record industry by circumventing major record labels and distributors and building independent labels and engaging in e-commerce. JT the Bigga Figga not only realised that he "had a bigger work to do through this music", but he has also helped to revitalise his local communities of Fillmore and Bay's View/ Hunter's Point through speaking engagements and providing business classes to youth. He did not only actively support and attend the Million Man March and Million Family March, and the many Nation of Islam sponsored hip hop summits since 1997, he has also assembled a group of young Blacks, Latinos, and Pacific Islanders into a national cooperative business venture named Black Wall Street (in commemoration of the US government's bombing of Oklahoma's Black Wall Street in 1934), thereby providing networking opportunities and economic growth to those traditionally excluded from such enterprises. I am currently conducting research to uncover more of these Islamic nation-building activities within the hip hop nation. For example, what do we know about NYC's Egyptian female rapper Mutamassik (meaning "tenacious" in Arabic)? What are her personal struggles, and how has she contributed to nation-building activities through and beyond her music?

INTERNATIONAL CONTEXT: What is the relationship between African American Muslim movements in the hip hop cultural movement and the global Islamic world? What kinds of nation-building activities are occurring when Wu-Tang Clan's Rza visits with his Muslim brethren in Egypt, or when The Sunz of Man meet up with IAM in France? What happens when Palestinian rhymer and graffiti artist Masari writes a graff on the San Francisco city walls reading "Liberate Palestine" then spits these lines on the concrete streets of the US to note that "back in Ramallah, my brothers are straight strugglin":

Those gone souls are in my soul

So now my mission's to be plottin

Let the evil rot in...

And our people live forever, cuz souls are not to be forgotten

What are we to make of the many sons and daughters of Muslim immigrants to the US who have been hiphopitised by this African American cultural movement? Will academic centres like AUC's American Studies Centre begin examining the role that hip hop has played in networking Muslims around the globe from Shaolin to Shubra? These are some issues and questions for future research.

Researchers are needed to study the trilingual (Arabic, Hebrew and English) rappers in Palestine as they rail against what they perceive to be the tyranny of the Israeli state, to explore the struggles of Muslim rappers in Algeria as they wage war on what they believe are corrupt regimes (rappers with African American-inspired names like Ole Dirty Shame, MC Ghosto and Killa Dox), and to examine how Muslim artists in South Africa are critiquing what they perceive as the hypocrisy of their nation's "new democracy". How are these groups networked? How are they communicating with each other and the world? How has the Internet helped network Muslim artists and practitioners in the hip hop cultural movement? How are newsgroups such as Yahoo's "Muslims in hip hop" contributing to nation-building activities within the transglobal hip hop umma ?

FINAL THOUGHTS: As the authors of the forthcoming book, Tha Global Cipha: Hiphopography and the Study of Hip Hop Cultural Practice (H Samy Alim, Samir Meghelli and James G Spady) argue, the hip hop cultural movement needs to be examined with a seriousness of purpose and a methodology that considers the networked nature of Islam in order to reveal the hidden aspects of this highly misunderstood transglobal phenomenon. This is a cultural movement whose practitioners represent arguably some of the most cutting-edge conveyers of contemporary Islam. What will this new knowledge mean for Islamic scholars who teach courses on fiqh, Qur'anic exegesis, Islamic civilisation, or Islam and modernity? Will this new knowledge transform our view about the impact of popular culture, particularly hip hop culture, in constructing an Islam appropriate to the needs of contemporary society? Further, will imams revise their pedagogies in efforts to engage Muslim youth who are living in this postmodern hip hop world?

There will undoubtedly be many changes in the way that hip hop culture is studied in the academy within the next five to ten years. Hip hop culture's global impact has helped to transform public opinion (including the academy) of the artform. Only a decade ago, hip hop culture occupied a shunned pariah status in the academy; today universities like Stanford, Harvard, Berkeley, Duke, and the University of Pennsylvania are offering hip hop courses in departments as diverse as Linguistics, Religious Studies, Philosophy and African American Studies. Hip hop culture is being widely recognised as the most recent instantiation of an African American oral tradition that has "gone global", become syncretised with other world cultures and musics (see Egyptian singer Hakim's Tamenni Alaik which combines French and Spanish- language rap with contemporary Egyptian shaabi music) as new manifestations of hip hop form worldwide, and galvanised an entire generation of youth to become more involved in social and political causes.

Many questions remain for what Islamic scholar Jamilla Kareem calls the "American Umma". Will hip hop culture's profound impact on Muslim immigrants to the US, and their sons and daughters, help to reduce the current divide between the African American Muslim communities and immigrant Muslim communities? Will hip hop culture be the vehicle that helps unite the "American Umma"? Or will the transformative, resistive power of hip hop culture be undercut by its widely gained acceptance and co-optation by some of the very institutions it was created to resist? For now, we will continue to document the nation-building activities that are occurring around a world that is more and more tightly networked by these two seemingly contradictory communities -- Islam and the hip hop nation -- or as we've conceived it here, the transglobal hip hop umma.
posted by R J Noriega at 6:03 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
The Nkiru Center for Education and Culture
By Laylah Amatullah Barrayn

"You were looking crisp on the tube", chants a poet from England over a beat that sounds like a fusion of HipHop and House. He seems to be a bit nervous after being informed just before walking to the stage that he, in fact, is standing on the famous/infamous soil of Brooklyn. But he goes on to give a banging performance that earns him a hefty round of applause and a couple of headnods and aiights. D, who is visiting from Toronto, goes next. He recites his literary creation sans music but with plenty of arm and hand gestures to make up for it. His long thick locks add a dynamic to the performance as they sway from left to right across his back. After D, there's a long list of poets awaiting eagerly to share their poetry with us. It¹s the last Saturday of the month- Foundations night in other words. A night where aspiring poets and MC's to show their mastery of the spoken-word to their fellow peers at Nkiru Center for Education and Culture. It's Nkiru's signature event that never fails at bringing and moving a crowd.

Don't fret if you're not into poetry slams. Foundations is just phase one of the ascension to higher heights for this non-for-profit organization. Nkiru Center for Education and Culture (Nkiru: an Ibo word for the best is yet to come), began as a bookstore ran out of the apartment of its founder, Leothy Miller Owens in 1976. Soon after, the bookstore expanded into its first commercial location on St. Marks Place in the Park Slope Section of Brooklyn. Ms. Miller-Owens passed-on and her mother took over the business. Business went well for some time then Nkiru took the route of what seems inevitable to all mom-and-pops stores today- the path of acute financial crisis. There were two visionaries who cared enough for the community to save Nkiru from defeat. These two were the MC's of the dynamic Hiphop group Black Star- Mos Def and Talib Kweli.

The BlackStar Duo purchased the bookstore in 1999 and Nkiru went on to thrive once again as Brooklyn's oldest Black bookstore. It provided books and merchandise that reflected the black Diaspora and experience and became a beacon for literature and enlightenment for Brooklyn. In time, despite all its success with the community, Nkiru looked down that familiar road of eviction. Nkiru packed up and relocated to the neighboring community of Crown Heights. And with this move came a name change makeover, going from Nkiru Books to Nkiru Center for Education and Culture, changing its format as well. Now Selling books primarily through Volume.com and special orders via telephone, the store-which still has some books there- is used for events that "promotes multicultural education and awareness" through literary workshops, seminars, lectures and the like.

Although the New site of Nkiru, modest in size, is not as roomy as its former location Park Slope, it provides a calming atmosphere to read, relax and reflect. It's a comfortable environment where anyone can easily feel at home. Earlier a few days before the Foundations event, I visit with Dr. Brenda Green, the Executive Director of Nkiru Center of Education and Cutlure. She is preparing for a book reading that evening at Nkiru. Mumia Abu Jamal's long time friend, Terry Bisson, who is also the author of his Mumia's Latest biography On a Move : The Story of Mumia Abu Jamal (Litmus Books) will be reading excerpts from his latest book. Mumia's first wife will make an appearance as well.

"It fills the voids that is created in schools" Dr. Green, a English professor, and mother of Talib Kweli, explains about Nkiru's importance to the community, specifically the referring to the youth, "[it's] a meeting space that provides a platform to perform." There are theatre workshops free of charge for middle school children, where they come and learn the basics about theater like voice and diction exercises, and scene and script development. Along with the theater workshops, Nkiru hosts story time hours at the end of the week, with appearances by the authors themselves.

Adults can, too ,come Nkiru to sharpen their writing skills at the writing workshops held on Thursday nights. For those who are big on dialogue they may engage themselves in discussions on intriguing topics at the Intergenerational Conversation Series or analyze a movie shown at the independent film series. Nkiru collaborates with the near-by Brooklyn public library and Medgar Evers College for larger community events.

Keep your eyes on Nkiru. As the meaning of its name advises - the best is yet to come. Being the catalyst that it is for positive change and progression - it is destined to become a Brooklyn landmark, as Talib Kweli envisions it to be. Maybe Foundations will hone the skills of the next big MC or help an aspiring writer find their voice. In any case, all who come through will leave empowered and reaffirmed of the richness and complexity of their African heritage.

Nkiru Center for Education and Culture
732 Washington Ave (between Park Pl & Prospect Pl)
Brooklyn, NY 11238
posted by R J Noriega at 5:26 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Saturday, August 06, 2005
The Oneonta BlackList
by Chisun Lee

ONEONTA, NEW YORK—On a summer afternoon, surrounded by emerald hills and brilliant blue skies, it is not so hard to see why Tyrone Lohr stays in Oneonta. He likes the pace of this 14,000-person town. It is calmer than Queens, the city borough where he grew up. There is no traffic to speak of, although residents expect some bustle when the fall term begins at the town's state college. Lohr, 31, graduated from there in 1996, landed a good job, and settled in.
It should be a great place for Lohr to live, except that here, on September 4, 1992, just moments into his fresh-man year, he became one of several hundred innocent black residents targeted in an infamous police manhunt.

Someone had broken into a local home in the middle of the night. The victim said the intruder was black. Over the course of five days, state, county, and town police joined forces to interrogate scores of people, all black, at their homes or workplaces, outside classrooms, at the bus depot, at traffic stops, and on sidewalks. There were approximately 400 black students at the State University of New York College at Oneonta, known as SUCO. There were several hundred black residents. Authorities had a good shot at meeting their declared goal: to track down every black person in town. In the end, no one included in the sweep turned out to be the culprit.

The racial dragnet ignited angry protests. The humiliating events cried out for fast justice. Yet remarkably, 13 years later, the targeted still wait.

Dismissed at federal court, long stymied at state court, the plaintiffs can hardly be blamed for suspecting that the great constitutional principle of equality is a sham. But now this class action suit, one of the longest litigated civil rights cases in the nation, is finally headed to a trial this fall.

"It is about time," says Lohr. "I'm always aware that race can get pulled on me. It's my responsibility to keep on this, to keep it from happening again to someone else."

With mixed hopes and much indignation, some of the plaintiffs spoke to the Voice about wrongs long ignored, wrongs compounded with time. The harm they describe is greater and more complex than its parts. Theirs is a story not just of offensive incidents, but of permanent membership in an unwelcome minority, of being constantly watched, of racial inequality that is too often reinforced by agents of the state.


A dark hand in the night

The crime was serious. But except for a few certainties, the truth was murky and became murkier with time. It happened in a house located down a narrow road, through fields and trees, where just a few other houses stand. Locals say that the scene has not changed much, except that there were no streetlights on the road back then.

A 77-year-old woman visiting from out of town was awakened in that house sometime after midnight on Friday, September 4, 1992, by an intruder. She had been sleeping on her stomach in a first-floor bedroom, and the man had either lain or sat on top of her, she later recalled. She never saw his face or his full form, only a dark hand gripping a knife. He warned her to "do as I say" and stuffed a bandanna in her mouth.

Resisting, she turned and managed to push him away. Sometime in the struggle she suffered several cuts and, she later said, the attacker might have cut himself with the knife. He ran from the room and fled the house. Police initially called the crime an attempted burglary but later described it as an attempted rape.

The victim, since deceased, told police that her attacker had the vocal "timbre" and dark hand of a black man, and from his speed appeared to be young. Deposed in September 1995 by lawyers for the plaintiffs, she said, "I am well acquainted with his black arm, with black arms, because there are different shades and so on, I know. My son-in-law is black. One of my grandnephews is black. I know black. And certainly I didn't say it in a derogatory way when I identified him as black, but the voice and the skin did it." Voice, skin color, gender, and seeming youth were all the description she was able to give the police. The attacker also left behind bloodstains on some of the doors and walls.

The investigators theorized that the intruder might have cut himself on the hand or arm, since blood was found on the doorknobs. Along the way, this possibility became a public certainty to the police. It also became integral to the investigation, a detail used to justify the inspection of the bodies of hundreds of innocent black residents. The victim herself said, "I didn't know where he had cut himself. How was I to know?"

Scott Fein, a partner at the Albany firm Whiteman Osterman & Hanna, which has represented the black plaintiffs, pro bono, from the start, says that even if the cut hand or any clue had been certain, nothing could justify pursuing every black person in town. Over the dragnet's five days, he says, investigators had plenty of time to stop and reconsider their actions. Instead, they forged ahead, in flagrant disregard, according to Fein, of his clients' constitutional rights to be free from discrimination and unreasonable search and seizure.

In fact, the state police case file, a redacted copy of which Fein provided to the Voice, lists hundreds of fruitless interviews, a litany of "negative results," and "no pertinent information." It describes an all-points effort to track down any and all black males, on the sidewalks and at traffic stops, with absolutely no indication that officials paused to consider the social implications of such a sweep.

One agent's report, typical of the kind of investigations described, reads: "[name] is a white female, age 16, states she has black male friends and named [name], [name], [name], [name]." According to Fein's analysis of the file, over 100 black women and many older black men were interrogated, despite the victim's description.

"The actions of the state police were lawful in the circumstances," says Marc Violette, a spokesperson for Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, who stressed that the office is required by statute to defend all lawsuits against the state. "We mount a full defense. We want to prevail, and we take that same approach whether the issues are more trivial or deeply substantive," he said, refusing to make available any of the state's attorneys or provide detailed responses to questions. (Voice writer Wayne Barrett has disputed the absoluteness of this statutory duty, reporting past instances where New York attorneys general refused on principle to defend certain state actions.) Spitzer showed more concern in 1999, after the state won a crucial federal court argument defeating the plaintiffs' constitutional claims. He told Bob Herbert of The New York Times, "We won the case but it makes your skin crawl."

The debate over the years has been whether New York State is defending merely shoddy but excusable police work or outright discriminatory policing. But there is little debate as far as the plaintiffs are concerned. When the effect either way is to harass hundreds of blacks exclusively, the difference between carelessness and design hardly matters. Whether incidentally or on purpose, the plaintiffs believe that official racism played an undeniable role in the probe, and it damaged their lives.


'All the black people in the community'

Lohr woke from an afternoon nap to find several uniformed officers in his dormitory room. They wanted to know where he had been in the pre-dawn hours of September 4. They said they needed to see his arms and hands. A small scar on his right hand excited them, until he pointed out how obviously old it was.

The authorities had obtained a list from the college's vice president for administration, Leif Hartmark, of the names and addresses of all 125 black male students. Hartmark's quick compliance enabled police to move through the dorms with efficiency. He would later be demoted for violating the students' privacy.

Much of the questioning occurred in public or before an audience. Ricky Brown was walking home from a frat party when the uniforms formed a circle around him. Hopeton Gordon of the Bronx was roused from a nap in his dorm room and grilled as fellow students looked on. Hugh Harris-Inniss, from Trinidad by way of Brooklyn, was questioned once outside his off-campus apartment and then again that same day, as he called his mother from a pay phone to tell her about the first time. Sheryl Champen, then a SUCO admissions officer, was one of the women inexplicably stopped. At the town's bus depot, she was told by an officer that if she did not produce identification, she would not be allowed to board a bus to visit her grandmother in the Bronx.

All across Oneonta, for days, black students and residents stood before law enforcement agents, often in view of their white neighbors and colleagues, accounting for their whereabouts and displaying their arms. Many recently told the Voice that they were angry and hated to go along, but that cooperation seemed the only option when faced with several, often armed, officers at a time.

"We've tried to examine the hands of all the black people in the community," then senior state police investigator H. Karl Chandler told the Oneonta Daily Star in 1992. Forced to retire five years later, after a statewide corruption probe uncovered rampant evidence-tampering in the troop under his watch, Chandler spearheaded the multi-agency Oneonta sweep. The state's lawyers would later frame his judgments as having shown legitimate police discretion. Essentially, Chandler figured, black males being a manageably small minority in this town, the police might as well question them all. He said in a CBS television interview that his decision was "practical."

The investigation did not include a single law enforcement agent of color, according to Fein's interviews over the years with participating officers. Race and minority status did not seem to spark the slightest social concern or comprehension in officials like Chandler. He said then to The New York Times, "If your car has an accident, and there's red paint on it, are you going to look for a green car?"

Reached at his home in Oneonta last month, Chandler said, "My views have not changed. I have many black friends, and I've talked to them about this. They think the investigation was fine." He insisted that the same blanket approach would have been used upon another group—for instance, if the suspect had been "redheaded"—if the numbers allowed. Asked whether he had ever considered the social meaning of such an investigation, given the history of racism and official oppression in the U.S., Chandler said, "That is BS. There was no disrespect. We were not rude. The only people who would feel that way have something to hide or want money from a lawsuit."


Sorry was not enough

They had no idea who they were looking for," Brown, the former SUCO student whose name leads the plaintiffs' roster, recently told the
Voice. "Why didn't they just lock up all the black students in the gym and say, no one leaves until someone steps forward?"

He said the dragnet made college "miserable" and turned his first semester into "the absolute worst time of my life." Describing an experience of alienation that other plaintiffs confirmed as common, he said, "Going certain places as a black student in Oneonta was hard enough to begin with. And you're one of maybe two black people in a classroom. This sweep being the hot topic of the day, professors would ask what we thought about it. Some white student would say, 'They're always looking for money,' meaning a lawsuit. The professor would say, 'We need someone to take the other side. Of course, Mr. Brown must have something to say.' It could be art class—it would get brought up. And no one would take the black students' side, unless they were black."

Brown stuck it out and graduated from SUCO, although he says he considered leaving many times. "I felt as though I'd be letting the police and all those who trampled on my rights win."

Hugh Harris-Inniss also stayed, despite one day finding a note on his apartment door that read, "Get out, you niggers." He recently remembered, "My mom kept telling me to leave, but I didn't want this thing to beat me." But as many as half the black students either left the school immediately or transferred in subsequent semesters, two administrators from that time told the Voice. Minority enrollment dropped significantly after that fall, they said.

After being stopped and questioned, many of the students went directly to Edward "Bo" Whaley, a counselor who is black and still works at SUCO as an advocate for low-income students. He quickly arranged community meetings, and soon news reports began to describe student protests as large as 500.

Whaley had attended SUCO in the 1970s, when, he said, "There were white folks here who had never seen black folks in the flesh." Decades later, he is now a town fixture, prompting waves and greetings when he drives the streets. He described a responsive, close-knit community, where "one day I called the mayor about a dangerous bend in the road. The next day, there was a crossing guard there. A few days later, a blinking light had been installed. I can't imagine where else I would have wanted to raise my kids."

On the other hand, he said, outsiders, particularly those who appeared different, could be viewed with hostility. The dragnet brought the animosity to a boil.

"It was such a divisive situation that I actually said to my wife, 'I hope that when they catch this guy, he turns out to be black. Because if he isn't, and none of this was legit—holy Toledo,' " Whaley recently recalled. His white neighbors' disapproval of his sudden activism exemplified the racial dynamics of Oneonta, he said. "They would say to me, 'Bo, how can you say these things in the newspaper? This thing didn't happen to you.' I would say, 'It's like it happened to me. I'm black.' They would say, 'But Bo, we don't think of you as black.' "

He blames the community's lack of racial awareness for allowing a climate where the dragnet was possible in the first place. In video footage he and a student took during those heated weeks, Oneonta's then mayor, David Brenner, says, "There was a time when this community had probably four, possibly five, black families, who everyone knew. Everyone knew the parents, the offspring. We hadn't seen them here as groups."

Apologies soon trickled forth, directed mostly to the students, whose organized outrage attracted the greatest media coverage of the town-wide sweep.

A week after the investigation began, SUCO's president, Alan Donovan, condemned the school's release of the list as "illegal" and "immoral" and criticized police for acting "in violation of civil rights."

The state police also apologized, saying their "zeal to solve this serious crime" had led to actions "which we now know to be insensitive to the feelings and perceptions of minority students."

But "sorry" was not enough. On behalf of the black community, a few students contacted rights groups, which directed them to Fein's firm. At one of his first meetings with his clients, videotaped by Whaley, Fein stood at a podium before a bank of television cameras and told the packed lecture hall that the community was owed justice.


Time deepens the wounds

Thirteen years later, that audience, now adults with families and careers, still waits. The plaintiffs sued the state of New York, the university system, and law enforcement agencies, in both federal and state courts, under similar federal and state constitutional provisions. They alleged racial discrimination and unreasonable searches and seizures. They ran into roadblocks both ways.

The federal discrimination claims were ultimately dismissed, when a panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals found that the plaintiffs "were not questioned solely on the basis of their race. They were questioned on the altogether legitimate basis of a physical description given by the victim of a crime."

The plaintiffs' petition to the U.S. Supreme Court—to hear what had become known as the test case about racial profiling—was denied. The rejection came less than a month after the 9-11 attacks, as law enforcement agents across the country jailed or interrogated thousands who appeared to be Arab or Muslim. Attorney Fein believes the timing was a factor in the denial.

State court posed another hurdle. Never had New York's courts allowed plaintiffs alleging purely constitutional violations to sue the government for money damages. The thought was that money would cheapen the constitutional principles involved. But the Oneonta plaintiffs had no other option. They could not take the traditional route of demanding that the violation be stopped—it had happened years before.

As their lawyers duked it out with the state's lawyers in over 50 motions and court appearances, the plaintiffs grappled with anger and disbelief. The police sweep had been an outrage, but the rejection by the courts was coldly stunning.

If the constitutional guarantee of racial equality could not be invoked to avenge his degrading treatment at the hands of Investigator Chandler and his troops, Hopeton Gordon wondered if it was good for anything. In September 1992, he had shared his feelings at a rally of students. "I'm not stupid. I might be black, but I'm not dumb. I felt humiliated," he told the crowd. As the years went on, Gordon earned his master's degree in public administration from New York University, got married, and had children. Today he works for the city's Health and Hospitals Corporation.

He recently told of being pulled over by police "for being a black man driving an Acura." His young daughter had been in the back seat. She said, "Daddy, are you going to jail?" Gordon recalled. "We take it for granted that this is 2005, but I tell my girls to be careful not to put themselves in a situation where they might get arrested or in trouble with the cops. You come to expect that you're going to be harassed."

Plaintiff John Mason, 32, who grew up in Hollis, Queens, and is now a technology consultant at JPMorgan in Manhattan, says he has been pulled over "15 to 20 times in my life, between driving up to Oneonta for school and visiting my mom in Pennsylvania."

He calls the police conduct in Oneonta "arrogant," warning that a lack of punishment will embolden racist officials everywhere. "We thought, for sure, there was going to be hell to pay, that heads would roll at the police department. But here we are, 13 years later, and nothing," says Mason. "There's a part of these people that is ingrained, where these guys do these things unabashed and undaunted, and then they say, 'We did it. So?' In order for them to do what they did in Oneonta, they had to have thought, 'There are going to be no consequences. These are just black folks.' "

Other plaintiffs share stories about being pulled over by highway police, being frisked without cause by police, and constantly having to deal with suspicions or stereotypical assumptions at work. They say their Oneonta experience often comes back in these moments as their lesson on just how bad such tensions can get.

Even as they endured the struggles of racism in their daily lives, the plaintiffs won—to the astonishment of legal observers—that historic break at state court that they needed. Faced with turning the Oneonta dragnet victims away or revolutionizing state law, in 1996 New York's Court of Appeals chose the latter and ruled that the plaintiffs could demand monetary compensation for their constitutional claims. But it would be another eight years before a judge would tell the government defendants that they had run out of appeals and that they should prepare themselves for trial.

More than victory

The Court of Appeals may have shocked traditionalists by allowing money talk to enter the lofty constitutional debate, but the plaintiffs are demanding still more. Not only has each member of the class claimed $75,000—not pennies, but not extravagant in view of their ordeal—but the plaintiffs have from the beginning made some unusual demands, demands that look more like public reform than private litigation.

One of the earliest desires of the student plaintiffs was for the state university system to provide free tuition to one qualified person—a relative or community member—per plaintiff, on top of the damages claimed. They thought it apt, since they were alleging that the state had deprived them of their right to enjoy an education just like any white student. The demand was quickly pooh-poohed by legal experts, since court remedies must typically be linked specifically to the plaintiffs. The state rejected the idea.

Thirteen years later, the plaintiffs are not thinking any smaller. Although he says the money is negotiable, Fein calls one novel and provocative demand a "critical" part of any conclusion: the creation of a statewide ban on police misuse of race, along with training and discipline to instill racial awareness into policing culture.

"We need a change on the books," says plaintiff Brown. "I don't think the cops would hesitate to do this again, generate a list based on race. Not after 9-11."

Unlike the New York City Police Department or those of some 35 states, New York's state police do not have an anti-racial-profiling policy, except for guidelines in making vehicle stops. But like the demand for free tuition, the demand for a racial-profiling ban is unlikely to be considered in court. Violette of the attorney general's office refused to comment on the prospects for such a ban.


The 13 intervening years have not made the plaintiffs forget. If anything, the delay has only made it more important to them not to give up, "to show them they can't just wait us out," says Lohr. But none of those who spoke of their views seem likely to take a court win alone as a happy ending. Their stories suggest a longing for a greater justice entirely, for no less than a life of equality, dignity, and freedom.

They demand an ambitious notion of progress, the idea that even in a world of constant threat, no one would be suspect just because of race, religion, or ethnicity. Not just because a court says so, but because the people believe it.

But their accounts of walking the streets of Oneonta and New York City, of driving on highways all across the land, reflect an opposite reality. "Everywhere you go, you're going to find racism," says plaintiff Harris-Inniss. Sometimes that racism is official.

Some of Lohr's co-plaintiffs said they thought it insane that any black man would choose to live in Oneonta after September 1992. But Lohr says, "At the end of the day, it's no different than anywhere else."
posted by R J Noriega at 1:57 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Wednesday, August 03, 2005
Pan Africanism in Context
New Era (Windhoek)
May 24, 2005

JOSEPH Zobels's 1955 stark portrayal in La Rue des cases-negre of rural Martinique, although fictional gives an accurate account of the life and times of the life of many blacks in Martinique. So powerful was this vivid portrayal that the book was banned for many years in mainland France.
It described the absurd contrast in the lives of white
minority Bekes and the impoverished existence of the majority black.

It is said that even today, some 150 years after the end of slavery in Martinique, unemployment amongst blacks can reach a figure of up to 60 percent in certain areas.

The pathetic conditions of hardship described in Zobel's classic French novel are of course prophetic and indicative of the conditions of many continental Africans; it is also telling of the conditions of Africans whether on the Motherland, Caribbean or the Americas. It further illustrates that regardless of colonial master, colony or time, Africans and their descendants were subjected to the same conditions
of exploitation and subjugation.

Consider further that even in the United States of America (USA) and South America, HIV/AIDS, poverty and illiteracy are proportionally more prevalent in African descendants than in any of the other ethnic formations in those parts of the
world. Many of the conditions faced by those on the
motherland are replicated in the Islands and the Americas; certainly this should be reason for reflection! It could perhaps be argued that because of the similar conditions faced by Africans, Africans need to have a uniform and united approach to eradicate and alleviate those conditions; perhaps
one could go further and suggest that the cement for this Unity is Pan Africanism.

Early pioneers of the Pan-African Movement such as W.E.B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey and Kwame Nkrumah have since the early half of the last decade advocated and advanced the cause of
African Unity. Many of the development paradigms we see today on the continent are manifestations of Pan-Africanism: NEPAD, the African Renaissance movement, the African Union (AU), and it precursor organisation the Organisation of African Unity
(OAU), even the celebration of Africa Day, all find
themselves within the ambit of Pan Africanism.

It in fact stands to reason that, had it not been for the wide-scale African support to the cause of the Namibian independence, the struggle would have been longer and perhaps manifold bitterer. In fact, some of the more decisive legal blows dealt to the occupation regime have been as a result of
legal instruments used by Liberia and Ethiopia.

Further, our collective memory should serve us well and remind us that even though the support for the struggle was largely international, those countries that carried the brunt of the racist wrath were frontline states. Despite that, they continued to train our students, host our refugees and military machinery.

The truth of the matter is that the way to the unity of the Africans is via the lessons learned through Pan-Africanism. This is why it is important to disseminate Pan Africanism through deliberate learning, so that the youth imbibe of these ideas. It is indeed curious that there are so few Pan-
African Centres in Africa. In Namibia we find the Pan African Centre of Namibia (Pacon), which has, as one of its objectives, the aim to ensure Pan Africanism becomes widely known in the country.

Pan-Africanism, amongst others, inspired the struggle of the South West Africa People's Organisation (Swapo) for national independence. Tony Emmett in his "Popular Resistance in
Namibia 1920-1925" informs us that a branch of Marcus Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) opened in Lüderitz in 1921. In January 1922, another branch opened in Windhoek. People such as John Samuel Aaron Mungunda, Simeon Hoveka, and Hosea Kutako were connected to the Windhoek branch. The ideas coming from the UNIA brought together the people of the area for the first time to fight German/Afrikaner colonialism. The birth of Namibian nationalism finds its roots in Garveyism.

The seeds of Pan-Africanism originated in Africa. They then crossed the Atlantic to the Caribbean and the Americas where they germinated in the experience of Africans under slavery. In the Diaspora, the experience was refined into a modern
philosophical idea, which came back to Africa by way of a set of ideas circulated at venues such as the 5th Pan-African Congress of 1945 and via the Pan African Congress series convened by W.E.B. Du Bois. Subsequent Pan-African congresses
have been attended by such personalities as HE Dr Sam Nujoma, the founding President of Namibia. It is only fitting therefore that our international relations policy in practice has reflected a Pan African dimension.

It has become evident in the recent past that two types of Pan-Africanism have emerged. Firstly, there is the branch that addresses Pan Africanism as the Political Unity of states on the continent. This definition of course includes Arab states. The second and perhaps more fitting branch views Pan Africanism as the Unity of the Black (some accounts use Ethiopian or Sudanese) Africans and their descendants in the Diaspora.

Many view this type of Pan-Africanism as the conduit through which indigenous Africans can seek to redress cross exploitation of black Africans and the continent. Many forget that the first mass capture and enslavement of Africans took
place some 800 years ago and did not happen at the hands of European Christians but at the hands of Arab Muslims. Black Africans have to find closure to that aspect of African History before a credible political Union with North Africa can be considered; let us also not forget that the crises and
chronic human rights abuses of Black Africans by Arabs are the root of the conflict in the Borderlands. The war in Sudan, the conflicts in Mauritania and the hot spots in many parts of the Borderlands stem from the insistence by Arab Muslims to spread their domination southwards, for some the existence of the Arab League and the 1989 Abuja declaration
by Muslims show a greater disposition towards religious and ethnic Unity.

If we are to address the conditions described by Zobel in La Rue des cases-negre which blacks face the world over, then certainly Pan Africanism has for our sake, to be the union of blacks and their descendants for the purpose of the prosperity and restoration of black souls and material conditions.

The argument here is therefore that formations of
Internationalism and Continentalism are good and important. However, Pan Africanism should be our natural predisposition, because of the unique yet common history faced by black Africans and their descendants the world over.

The last few years have seen a resurgence in Pan-African dialogue and activism. Key events in that regard are the formation of the Global African Congress at the world racism conference, the momentum in the preparation towards the 8th
Pan African Congress in Zimbabwe and increased dialogue at state level amongst Africa and the Caribbean countries. Areas that are going to be key for cooperation amongst these states would be trade and investment, education, culture and research and then perhaps just as in La Rue des cases-negre,
victims of history will triumph over their ill-fated past.
posted by R J Noriega at 4:46 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Tuesday, August 02, 2005
On black fathers....From EUR....
We've all witnessed a young Black boy gone bad, shaking our heads, wondering where the child's father could be and whether the father's absence could be the cause of the child's difficulties. However, we should give that same focus to the difficulties experienced by young Black girls as well.
Our community father is missing in action.

For many young Black boys in previous generations who were growing up without fathers, there were Black fathers in the neighborhoods who were unafraid to tell them what they needed to be doing and standing up to them when they were acting like damned fools. They, along with teachers and coaches, could discipline children without fear of reprisal from a permissive society gone mad.

Our metaphysical father was not only in the community and in the schools, but metaphysically present in fatherless homes.

There were metaphysical fathers in the politicians, activists, religious icons and average working men who stood as shining examples for all to see and embrace.

If we say that our fathers are not in the homes, then where is our metaphysical father today?

Bill Cosby is not our metaphysical father. He is America's favorite father and sent the "lower economic people" the message that he didn't like them very much. Like a deadbeat absentee father, he was not present when the child was growing and struggling, yet he stepped in after the fact to criticize the grown son, while still failing to offer any real assistance to balance the criticizing.

Jesse Jackson is not our metaphysical father. A bastard of the Civil Rights Movement, Jackson has no idea what he is supposed to be, and the end result is foolishness and obsolescence.

Neither athletes nor entertainers are metaphysical fathers. Magic Johnson has recently been putting in good effort, but he is no Mohammed Ali and Russell Simmons looks silly acting like a community activist after harming and/or ignoring the community for decades.

For some silly Negroes, the white man is the metaphysical father. The mannerisms, speech and elitist thought patterns of racist whites govern these Negroes who may as well call George Bush, Jerry Falwell or the Pope "Daddy." Adopting the thinking of the most racist white man who pretends not to be racist, these deluded Negroes believe they are progressive simply because they are divergent from the masses of Blacks who either recall or still feel a heavy racist boot on their asses. Black sons and daughters of the white metaphysical father see no racism and believe that those who call racism out are "whining" and employing excuses for weakness, even though the children of the white metaphysical father often move ahead on the backs of generations of “whiners."

Because the Black metaphysical father is missing, many of us overcompensate, undercompensate, decompensate or simply fail to grow.

We can see the results of the missing metaphysical father when we see today's younger generation enamored with a over-glamorized pimp/thug lifestyle they have never lead. We see the results when we see women who have had only poor relationships with men, sit in circles with each other to define what a "good" man should be. And we see those results when we see grown men avoid being too manly, afraid to toe the line because too many people will chastise a man for being a man.

The absentee metaphysical father is so elusive that many of us--men and women--have no idea what a man is supposed to be. So we act foolish and accept foolishness, often aligning ourselves with men who are nearly women--not homosexuals, but virtual asexuals--effeminate and retiring, looking for direction and needing to be controlled. These are the men who date strong women and allow themselves to be dominated and controlled, leading to bizarre relationships that can neither be neither duplicated nor sustained.

White society is also suffering from an abundance of fatherless homes. The difference is that they can still look around and see their metaphysical father in the White House, in the boardroom and appearing to be orchestrating all things important in society.

The Black metaphysical father is hard to find, and many are simply absent.

These things having been said, there are still Black fathers in our midst. In addition, there are fathering men among us who are clear about what is best for the women and children in our lives, even if they are not our wives and offspring.

My brothers and my closest friends are metaphysical fathers, going out of their way to be good examples of the best of our previous generation no matter what the cost.

Denzel Washington, Chuck D and now, Will Smith are metaphysical fathers in entertainment, standing strong and true to beautiful images of Black male strength, no matter what the cost.

Cornell West, Naim Akbar and Michael Eric Dyson are metaphysical fathers of intellect, standing strong and true to the beauty of the Black psyche, no matter what the cost.

Kwame Kilpatrick and Barack Obama are metaphysical fathers in politics.

The millions of Black men who raise children who are not biologically theirs are metaphysical fathers, extending the African village by miles.
Brothers, if we expect our manchildren to grow into productive, strong men, we have to show them what that looks like and how to grow into an example we can live out for them. If we expect our female children of the community to grow unbound beyond the lack of influence from the metaphysical father, we have to provide that same example as fathers, brothers, uncles, cousins and community members.

It may not always feel good to be the example, but we have to exist. And it may not always feel good when metaphysical fathering is shown to us, but we have to accept it. Part of each man's contribution to the metaphysical father is to praise manly behavior and deride bad behavior--even when it appears in our own lives.

Darryl James is an award-winning author and is now a relationship coach, providing pragmatic advice for loving and living in today's world. James’ latest book, “Bridging The Black Gender Gap,” is the basis of his lectures and seminars. Previous installments of this column can now be viewed at www.bridgecolumn.com. James can be reached at djames@theblackgendergap.com.
posted by R J Noriega at 8:05 PM | Permalink | 3 comments
Diamonds & Sierra Leone: A Hard Rock Life
By Seandra Sims

When diamonds literally cost an arm and leg, is it really worth it?

“Wodi, I'm tattooed and barred up/
Medallion iced up/Rolex bezelled up/
And my pinky ring is platinum plus/
Earrings be trillion cut/
And my grill be slugged up…”
-Baby, “Bling, Bling,” Cash Money Millionaires (1999)

The concept of “bling,” a term so popular it was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2003, is just as much a part of hip-hop culture now as it was more than 15 years ago. In the early days, flashy MC’s like Big Daddy Kane and Rakim and Run DMC rocked massive gold “dookie” ropes and called it dapper. Today, the diamond encrusted mouths of Cash Money Millionaires spit the very word that catapulted new school hip-hop enthusiasts into a bedazzled obsessed era - “Bling, Bling.” That song, an ode to all that is luxurious, shiny and exclusive, helped strengthened the diamond’s role as a symbol of status in the culture. Part of the appeal of diamonds among rappers and rap rookies is that not everyone can purchase them. In fact, dealers like New York’s infamous Jacob “The Jeweler” Arabo have turned a girl’s best friend into a must-have commodity for the rich and shameless. But at what price?

The problem is, says Raquel Cepeda, co-director of the upcoming documentary film BLING: A Planet Rock, most entertainers rarely know about the journey that a lot of these diamonds make from Africa to the emblazoned charms dangling from their necks. From her first trip to Sierra Leone, Africa she recalls meeting a boy named Pende whose entire family was killed and was forced to fight as a member of the West Side Boys faction in the diamond conflict.

“A lot of the rebels in Sierra Leone were 14 to 18-year-olds,” says Cepeda. “Some of the rebels chose to fight, but an alarmingly large amount of children were abducted from their homes and forced into becoming soldiers,” she adds. Cepeda, former editor-in-chief of Russell Simmons’ One World Magazine, is set to travel back to Sierra Leone with some of America’s most popular rap artists to film BLING: A Planet Rock in December. She hopes that the film, which she says is “a theatrical documentary that’s sometimes satirical, but very accessible and palatable for people in our generation,” will help open the eyes of young people of color to a well-kept secret back in the motherland.

Hip-hop aficionados have said little about this diamond conflict until recently. Cepeda and film director Lisa Leone’s efforts to educate others about the Sierra Leone diamond crisis eventually lead to a chance conversation with rapper/producer Kanye West. After getting his initial information from Q-Tip, West heard more about the African tragedy from Cepeda. Finally, the Roc-A-Fella staple says he was urged to clear up misunderstandings about his new single “Diamonds Are Forever.”

“When the song first came out, people thought [I] was making a song glorifying diamonds,” he says, “which is so anti-Kanye West.” “Diamonds Are Forever” was originally about the rebirth of the Roc-A-Fella dynasty, symbolized by its well-known diamond shaped hand sign, but it took on new life after West learned about the diamond conflict.

Whether diamonds in America are bought hot off the street or from reputable jewelers, there is a chance that across the ocean a mother or child has literally paid an arm and a leg to mine them due to dangerous working conditions in the waters of places like Sierra Leone. They are called “conflict” or “blood diamonds” because they fund military actions and weapons in areas controlled by factions that are opposed to organized government.

According to the most recent United Nations General Assembly report, the exploitation of humans for diamond mining is “prolonging many brutal conflicts around the globe,” and sanctions against it are failing to eliminate the problem. Last September, a survey of more than 100 diamond retailers taken on the “National Day of Action on Conflict Diamonds” showed that only 27% of them had a policy in line with that of the Kimberley Process, a global effort led by the diamond industry to ensure diamonds are sold with authenticating, no-conflict Certificates of Origin.

In Sierra Leone, with its Freetown settlement established by freed American slaves from Canada, there are signs everywhere of a people struggling to rebound from a 10-year civil war. There are shack-like stores advertising Coca-Cola, rappers commanding microphones at small, understated clubs, and the typical scenes of children playing on dusty streets. Gone are all but one of the amputee camps, says Cepeda, that were once home to thousands of children and adults who lost limbs while being forced to mine by Sierra Leonean rebels.

“I thought my Jesus piece was harmless/Till I saw a picture of a shorty armless,” West says in the remixed “Diamonds From Sierra Leone” single from his forthcoming album Late Registration. After changing the lyrics and shooting the graphic yet poignant video, West admits, “I felt like it was God working through me to get this message out…slightly enough education and just edgy enough to make people get on the Internet and say ‘damn, what’s up with Sierra Leone?’”

Before and since the release of West's remix, musicians, filmmakers, and world politicians alike are speaking out in the hopes of ending the genocide in Sierra Leone and other countries. Protests have taken place recently against multi-billion dollar diamond producers like DeBeers Jewelers, raising questions about their involvement in the conflict. Carson Glover, the New York spokesman for DeBeers’ Diamond Information Center, gave the following formal statement on Professional Jeweler’s website: “While we have not viewed Mr. West’s new video, the lyrics of the song certainly do not reflect the tremendous work the diamond industry has done in conjunction with the Kimberley Process.”

Across the Atlantic Ocean, rappers with their own personal angst and styles are also swayed heavily by America’s Hip-Hop agenda. On a recent trip to Sierra Leone to lay the groundwork for BLING: A Planet Rock, Leone captured their reactions to watching the “Diamonds From Sierra Leone” video and says she was moved by their realization that someone else cared about their plight.

In December, she and Cepeda intend to travel back to Sierra Leone to begin filming, this time with Kanye West, Jadakiss, and reggaeton artist Tego Calderon. Cepeda said they hope to bridge the gap between artists from both countries and illustrate how our actions in America can affect our brothers and sisters on the African continent.

And the process of creating that overpass from the motherland to the 'hood remains a diamond in the rough.

posted by R J Noriega at 7:47 PM | Permalink | 0 comments

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